Tales From Bank Boardrooms

If anyone in banking has seen it all, it’s Jim McAlpin. 

He’s sat in on countless board deliberations since he got his start under the late Walt Moeling, a fellow Alabamian who served as his mentor at Powell, Goldstein, Frazer & Murphy, which later merged with Bryan Cave in 2009. 

“That’s how I started in the banking world, literally carrying Walt’s briefcase to board meetings. Which sometimes was a very heavy briefcase,” quips McAlpin. Moeling made sure that the young McAlpin worked with different attorneys at the firm, learning various ways to practice law and negotiate on behalf of clients. “He was my home base, but I also did lending work, I did securities work, I did some real estate work. I did a lot of M&A work” in the 1990s, including deals for private equity firms and other companies outside the banking sector.

But it’s his keen interest in interpersonal dynamics and his experience in corporate boardrooms, fueled by almost four decades attending board meetings as an attorney and board member himself, that has made McAlpin a go-to resource on corporate governance matters. Today, he’s a partner at Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner, and he recently joined the board of DirectorCorps, Bank Director’s parent company. 

“I’ve gone to hundreds of meetings, and each board is different. You can have the same set of circumstances more or less, be doing the same kind of deal, facing the same type of issue or regulatory situation,” he says. “But each set of people approaches it differently. And that fascinates me.”  

McAlpin’s a consummate storyteller with ample anecdotes that he easily ties to lessons learned about corporate governance. Take the time he broke up a physical fight during the financial crisis. 

“During that time period, I saw a lot of people subjected to stress,” he says. “There are certain people who, under stress, really rise to the occasion, and it’s not always the people you think are going to do so. And then there are others who just fall apart, who crumble. Collectively as a board, it matters.”

Boards function based on the collection of individual personalities, and whether or not those directors are on the same page about their organization’s mission, goals and values. McAlpin’s intrigued by it, saying that for good boards, the culture “permeates the room.”

McAlpin experienced the 1990s M&A boom and the industry’s struggles through the financial crisis. On the precipice of uncertainty, as interest rates rise and banks weather technological disruption, he remains bullish on banking. “This is a good time to be in banking,” he says. “It’s harder to get an M&A deal done this year. So, I think it’s caused a lot of people to step back and say, ‘OK, what are we going to do over the next few years to improve the profitability of our bank, to grow our bank, to promote organic growth?’. … [That’s] the subject of a lot of focus within bank boardrooms.”

McAlpin was interviewed for The Slant podcast ahead of Bank Director’s Bank Board Training Forum, where he spoke about the practices that build stronger boards and weighed in on the results of the 2022 Governance Best Practices Survey, which is sponsored by Bryan Cave. In the podcast, McAlpin shares his stories from bank boardrooms, his views on corporate culture and M&A, and why he’s optimistic about the state of the industry. 

Harness the Power of Tech to Win Business Banking

The process for opening a consumer account at most financial institutions is pretty standard. It’s not uncommon for banks to provide a fully digital account opening experience for retail customers, while falling back on manual and fragmented processes for business accounts.

Common elements in business account opening include contact forms, days of back-and-forth communication or trips to a branch, sending documents via secure email systems that require someone to set up a whole new account and a highly manual document review process once the bank finally receives those files. This can take anywhere from days to multiple weeks for complex accounts.

Until very recently, the greatest competitor for banks in acquiring and growing business accounts was other banks. But in recent years, digital business banks have quickly emerged as a more formidable competitor. And these digital business banks empower users to open business accounts in minutes.

We researched some of the top digital business banks to learn more about how these companies are winning the business of small businesses. We discovered there are three key ways digital banks are rapidly growing by acquiring business accounts:

1. Seamless, intuitive user experiences. Business clients can instantly open accounts from a digital bank website. There’s no need to travel to a branch or pick up a phone; all documents can be submitted online.
2. Leveraging third-party technology. Digital banks aren’t building their own internal tech stacks from the ground up. They’re using best-in-class workflow tools to construct a client onboarding journey that is streamlined from end to end.
3. Modern aesthetics. Digital business banks use design and aesthetics to their advantage by featuring bright and engaging colors, clean user interfaces and exceptional branding.

The result? Digital banks are pushing their more traditional counterparts to grow and innovate in ways never before experienced in financial services.

Understanding what small businesses need from your bank
A business account is a must-have for any small business. But a flashy brand and a great user experience aren’t key to opening an account. Small businesses are really looking for the right tools to help them run their business.

While digital banks offer a seamless online experience, community banks shouldn’t sell themselves short. Traditional banks have robust product offerings and the unique ability to deal with more complex needs, which many businesses require. Some of the ways businesses need their financial institutions to help include:

  • Banking and accounting administration.
  • Financing, especially when it comes to invoices and loan repayment.
  • Rewards programs based on their unique needs.
  • Payments, specifically accepting more forms of payment without fees.

It’s important to keep in mind that your bank can’t be all things to all clients. Your expertise in your particular geography, industry or offerings plays a huge role in defining your niche in business banking. It’s what a lot of fintechs — including most digital banks — do: identify a specific niche audience and need, solve the need with technology, and let it go viral.

While digital banks might snap up basic small and medium businesses, the bar to compete in the greater market is not as high as perceived — especially when it comes to differentiated, high-risk complex entities. But it requires a shift in thinking, and the overlaying the right tech on top of the power of a community based financial institution.

It’s important that community bank executives adopt a smart, agile approach when choosing technology partners. To avoid vendor lock-in, explore technologies with integration layers that can seamlessly plug new software into your bank’s core, loan origination system, digital banking treasury management system and all other platforms and services. This means your bank can adopt whatever new tech is best for your business, without letting legacy vendors effectively dictate what you can or can’t do.

Your level of success in winning at digital banking comes down to keeping the client in focus and providing the best experiences for their ongoing needs with the right technology. While the account itself might be a commodity, the journeys, services and offerings your bank provides to small businesses are critical to growing and nurturing your client base.

Strategic Insights from Leading Bankers: WSFS Financial Corp.

RankingBanking will be further examined as part of Bank Director’s Inspired By Acquire or Be Acquired, featured on BankDirector.com, which will include a discussion with WSFS CEO Rodger Levenson and Al Dominick, CEO of Bank Director, about weaving together technology and strategy. Click here to access the content.

Digital transformation in the banking industry has become an important factor driving deal activity, evidenced by recent acquisition announcements involving First Citizens BancShares, PNC Financial Services Group and Huntington Bancshares. A more tech-forward future also drove $13.8 billion WSFS Financial Corp.’s August 2018 acquisition of $5.8 billion Beneficial Bancorp, expanding its presence around Philadelphia and putting it well over the $10 billion asset threshold. Importantly, it provided the scale WSFS needed to make a $32 million, five-year investment in digital delivery initiatives.

The Wilmington, Delaware-based bank’s long-term focus on strategic growth, particularly in executing on its digital initiatives, led to a fourth-place finish in Bank Director’s 2021 RankingBanking study, comprised of the industry’s top performers based on 20-year total shareholder return. Crowe LLP sponsored the study. Bank Director Vice President of Research Emily McCormick further explores the bank’s digital transformation in this conversation with WSFS Chairman and CEO Rodger Levenson. The interview, conducted on Oct. 27, 2020, has been edited for brevity, clarity and flow.

BD: How does WSFS strategically approach strong, long-term performance?

RL: It comes from the top. The board has always managed this company with the goal of sustainable long-term performance, high performance. Every discussion, every decision and every strategic plan that we put together is looked [at] through that lens. And I would point to the most recent decision around the Beneficial acquisition as an opportunity for us to invest in [the] long term while recognizing that we’d have some short-term negative impact. And by that I mean, if you look back over the last decade or so, coming out [of] ’09, 2010 — WSFS had been on a fairly consistent, nicely upward-sloping trajectory of high performance. … But what the board said as part of our strategic planning process and the conversation with Beneficial was that we could only continue down that path for so long if we didn’t address a couple of important issues.

One was, if you look at that growth, it was primarily centered on our physical presence, mostly in Delaware. It’s our home market, but it’s a pretty small market, less than a million people. A very nice economy, but certainly not as robust as we grew to the size that we had grown to support that. We needed to get into a larger market, particularly into Philadelphia, [which is] very robust demographically, very large to give us that opportunity to continue to grow at above-peer levels.

The second thing as part of that process is like everybody else — and this was obviously all pre-pandemic — we were analyzing and watching our customers shift how they interacted with us to more digital interaction and less physical interaction. And we said, for us to keep up we’re going to have to start shifting some of that long-term investment, that we’ve historically [put] into building branches, into funding our technology initiatives.

The two of those things came together for Beneficial, [which] obviously gave us the larger market; it also gave us the scale to attack that transition from physical to digital. We knew it would impact earnings for a couple of years while we put that together and prepared for the next decade or so of growth. The board had a very robust dialogue around the trade-offs that were involved, and clearly said that we need to manage the company for the long term.

This is a great opportunity to invest in the long term; we’ll take the short-term knock on performance because of where we’re ultimately headed. We saw that with the reaction of the Street to our stock price, but that didn’t change or waiver the long-term vision. … Our board principles and guidelines [have] been ingrained in us all the way down through management: If you want to provide the best long-term value for your shareholders, you have to not get tied up in quarter-to-quarter or year-to-year performance. You have to look at it over longer horizons and make decisions that support that.

BD: How are you strategically approaching technology investment?

RL: It was really a decision to follow our customers. … There’s nothing we can do to try and compete with [the] big guys. You know the stats. You know how many billions of dollars they’re spending on technology. We’re not trying to catch up to them or be like them. We want to have a digital product offering that allows us to be very flexible and have optionality so that when new products and services come along that our customers want, we can move quickly toward offering those products and services, and have an offering that is competitive with the big guys, but maybe not the bleeding edge. We’re marrying it with the traditional community bank model of access to decision-making, local market knowledge [and] a high level of associate engagement, which translates into what we think is world-class service. Our vision is to have a product offering that we can marry up with those other things that will allow us to compete effectively against the big guys.

Most of what the big guys spend their money on is R&D. They have teams and teams of technology people, data [scientists and] all those other things, because they’re building their proprietary products and services. Our view is we don’t have to do that R&D, because that R&D is getting done in the fintech space for us.

BD: WSFS has brought on board some high-level talent around digital transformation; you’ve also got expertise on the board. You’re working to recruit more in the data space, as well as building your in-house technology expertise. In addition to building relationships with fintechs, why is that internal expertise important, and how are you leveraging that?

RL: When we got started on this, we had almost nobody focused on it in the company. We realized for us to be as effective as we felt we needed to be, we needed to have some teams that were fully involved in this as a day-to-day job. In terms of funding it, obviously we closed or divested a quarter of our branches with Beneficial after the deal. When you do that, you not only have the cost savings from the savings in the lease expense, but there’s people expense as well. Fortunately, even though net/net, our positions in our retail network decreased by about 150 from those closures or divestitures, nobody lost their job. We were able to absorb that through natural attrition or in the one case, we sold six of our branches in New Jersey, and all those people were guaranteed a job as part of that deal.

This was a process that occurred over the course of a year. It was methodically laid out, leading up to the conversion of the brand and the systems in August 2019. Over that year, our teams did a fabulous job [of] managing people and the normal attrition that goes on in that business. That gave us the ability to fund not only some of the technology that we’re buying, but also some of these other positions internally. It’s exactly aligned with shifting that investment that we made in branches — which is not just the bricks and mortar; it’s the people, it’s the technology, it’s everything else — shifting a chunk of that into digital. This is a part of that whole process.

EM: How did the pandemic impact your strategy?

RL: The pandemic confirmed and accelerated everything that we’ve seen over the last few years, and reinforced our desire to [respond] as quickly as we can to the acceleration of these trends. Clearly, 2020 has been a totally different year because of remote work and all those things, but the longer-term trends have been validated and reinforced the strategic direction that we embarked upon before the pandemic. At some point, we will start moving back to a more normal environment, and we feel like we’re uniquely positioned.

It feels like there’s not a week that goes by with a bank that’s announcing some big branch reduction program and shifting that money into digital. We’re not trying to pat ourselves on the back, but I do think we happened to have that opportunity with Beneficial. It provided us the forum for attacking that issue sooner rather than later, so we’ve got somewhat of a head start down that road. This is just a confirmation of everything we saw when we did that analysis.

Fueling Future Growth


2017-Compensation-White-Paper.pngOver the past year and a half, there’s been a lot of good news for the banking industry. New regulators have been appointed who are more industry-friendly. Congress managed to not only pass tax reform, but also long-awaited regulatory relief for the nation’s banks. And the economy appears to remain on track, exceeding 4 percent gross domestic product (GDP) growth in the second quarter of 2018, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Bank Director’s 2018 Compensation Survey, sponsored by Compensation Advisors, a member of Meyer-Chatfield Group, finds that the challenges faced by the nation’s banks may have diminished, but they haven’t disappeared, either.

Small business owners are more optimistic than they’ve been in a decade, according to the second quarter 2018 Wells Fargo/Gallup Small Business Index survey. This should fuel loan demand as business owners seek to invest in and grow their enterprises. In turn, this creates even more competition for commercial lenders—already a hot commodity given their unique skill set, knowledge base and connections in the community. Technological innovation means that bank staff—and boards—need new skills to face the digital era. These innovations bring risk, in the form of cybercrime, that keep bankers—and bank regulators—up at night.

For key positions in areas like commercial lending and technology, “banks have to spend more,” says Flynt Gallagher, president of Compensation Advisors. “You have to pay top dollar.”

But a solid economy with a low unemployment rate—dropping to 3.8 percent in May, the lowest rate the U.S. has seen in more than 18 years—means that banks are facing a more competitive environment for the talent they need to sustain future strategic growth.

And regulatory relief doesn’t mean regulatory-free: With the legacy of the financial crisis, along with the challenges of facing economic, strategic and competitive threats, all of which are keeping boards busy, there’s more resting on the collective shoulders of bank directors than ever before, and boards will need new skill sets and perspectives to shepherd their organizations forward.

For more on these considerations, read the white paper.

To view the full results to the survey, click here.

The Evolution of Regional Champions



Over the past decade, regional champions have emerged as strong performers in today’s banking environment, entering new markets and gaining market share through acquisitions. In this panel discussion led by Scott Anderson and Joe Berry of Keefe Bruyette & Woods, John Asbury of Union Bankshares, Robert Sarver of Western Alliance Bancorp. and David Zalman of Prosperity Bancshares share their views on strategic growth opportunities in the marketplace, and why culture and talent reign supreme in M&A.

Highlights from this video:

  • Characteristics of Regional Champions
  • Identifying Strategic Opportunities
  • Why Scale Might Be Overrated
  • Lessons Learned in M&A
  • What Makes a Good Acquisition Target

Video length: 41 minutes

 

Need to Grow? Try Data


growth-10-3-16.pngTo survive, a plant at a minimum needs soil, sunlight and water.

Plants that grow better than others have usually received fertilizer on a regular basis. Think of the vegetable garden that produces bushels of produce throughout the summer.

Farms that produce commercial volumes utilize all of these resources, but they also have someone directing strategy based on a big-picture view including weather forecasts, equipment maintenance needs, field reports on pests, research on future risks to the crop, etc.

Banks, too, can subsist on the basics: good staff, products that meet the market’s current needs and essential data about the customer or operations. These financial institutions may be able to get by without analyzing the tons of data in their systems. Other banks may “fertilize” their growth by analyzing some of their data to shape product development or efficiency processes.

However, even at these institutions, a common factor stunting growth is disconnectedness between analysts, teams and departments when it comes to day-to-day operational or regulatory information. Just as the data is siloed, so is the insight and communication, making it challenging to provide either top-down or bottom-up strategy reviews. When people from multiple departments try to piece together data from multiple systems, it can be nearly impossible to glean actionable insight for outpacing current and future competitors. This quandary is magnified at top management levels, where executives must balance strategic objectives and pressures without a data-driven big picture.

Indeed, bank CEOs, directors, chief information officers and chief technology officers responding to Bank Director’s 2016 Technology Survey recently overwhelmingly indicated their institutions are plagued by the inability to effectively use data.

Financial institutions using data over the life of a loan are better able to manage and direct the big picture, shaping institutional strategy for superior growth. They can help determine not only where the institution has been making money, but also where it can expect to make money, how it can maximize profits and how it can minimize risk.

For example, at an ill-equipped institution, loan pricing decisions may be based only on competitive information. While comparability of terms is important to borrowers, it can also lead the institution into a disadvantageous relationship—one that could lose money for the institution. However, at an institution using a life-of-loan system, the loan officer would have an accurate measure of risk and overall profitability of the relationship, providing the loan officer with a range of acceptable terms that still ensure the bank meets its targets. When decisions aren’t made in a vacuum or from a single lender’s spreadsheet, the bank benefits from better decisions, and when better decisions happen across the commercial portfolio, the institution wins.

In addition to pricing, an integrated solution streamlines and automates much of the:

  • loan origination process
  • credit analysis
  • loan approval
  • loan administration and
  • portfolio risk management.

Connecting the data throughout the entire loan process allows bankers, underwriters and risk management professionals to communicate better and more efficiently. These systems also tend to unify employees with diverse skills into a more cohesive unit while building in a layer of awareness and appreciation for the full life of the loan.

All of this enables the financial institution to make better lending decisions based on relationship profitability and strategic goals, and it makes it easier for management to make informed decisions that ensure outperformance—even in an environment where interest rates and loan demand remain low and compliance risks are high.

In short, an integrated solution addresses the three greatest business concerns cited in Bank Director’s Technology Survey: regulatory compliance, becoming more efficient and competition from other banks.

The intersection of insight provided through an integrated solution not only creates more opportunity to develop an effective strategy, it can also guide the strategy. It gives bank management the ability to pivot, and the knowledge of where best to pivot to, so that the institution can focus its investments, development and sales efforts on the right areas for growth. In this way, the financial institution can flourish, rather than simply survive.

Want to learn more about integrated banking solutions? Sageworks has a free guide for bank executives.

The Little Bank That Could


strategy-9-23-16.pngSoon after Josh Rowland’s family bought Lead Bank in Garden City, Kansas, in 2005, the small financial institution felt the full impact of the financial crisis. The loan portfolio was in bad shape. Several employees lost their jobs. The entire experience lead to a lot of soul searching.

“It was really existential,’’ Vice Chairman Rowland says. “What do we survive for? What’s the point of a community bank? The situation was that dire. We had to really decide whether we should give it up.”

After much discussion, the family decided to hire Bill Bryant as the chief executive officer to help clean up the bank, now with $164 million in assets, and really focus on its niche: small business owners. A lot of community banks say they are serving small business owners, but Lead Bank decided to go a step further. In 2011, it launched a business advisory division for the purpose of coaching small business owners on cash flows, provide part-time or interim chief financial officers, and advice on strategic planning and even mergers and acquisitions. Rowland says a lot of small businesses could use advisory services, especially if they can’t afford to hire a full-time CFO. Lead Business Advisors has senior managing director Patrick Chesterman, a former energy executive for a large propane company and Jacquie Ward, a trainee analyst. The bank overall made a profit of $500,000 in the first six months of the year and saw assets grow 30 percent in the last year and a half, according to Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. data.

But the investment in advisory services is not a quick payback. Rowland says the division is not profitable yet. The challenges include marketing the program to a business community more accustomed to relying on trusted accountants or lawyers for such advice. Banks naturally have a lot of financial information and expertise, but they fail to provide it to their clients. “We ought to be figuring out every possible way to deliver that kind of financial expertise to Main Street business,” he says.

The tactic is an unusual one for community banks, which might have a wealth management division but not a business advisory division per se. And it’s expensive. Baker Boyer, a $571 million bank in Walla Walla, Washington, has been offering business advisory services as part of its wealth management division for years. But it has taken some 15 years to restructure the bank to offer such services, says Mark Kajita, president and chief executive officer. The average personnel expense per employee for the bank is roughly $80,000 annually with six lawyers on staff and the bank’s efficiency ratio is 73 percent, higher than the peer average of 66 percent.

However, the bank made $2.5 million in profits during the first half of 2016, with half of that coming from the wealth and business advisory division. Kajita says what made it possible was the fact that the bank is family owned and can invest in the long term without worrying about reporting quarterly financial results to pubic shareholders.

Community banks of that size have a real need to create a niche,’’ says Jim McAlpin, a partner at Bryan Cave in Atlanta who advises banks. “Historically, community banks have been focused on the small businesses of America, and to offer services to those small businesses is a great strategy.”

Joel Pruis, a senior director at Cornerstone Advisors in Phoenix, says banks have done themselves a disservice by relinquishing advisory services to CPAs and attorneys. “In terms of empowering lenders, in terms of providing more advice, we definitely need more of that,’’ he says. “Bankers need to be seen as a resource and an expert in the financial arena instead of just application takers.”

For Rowland, rethinking the role of the community bank is fundamental to its survival. “I don’t know how we expect to keep doing the same things and expect different results,’’ he says. People don’t feel their bank is adding any value for them, he says. “If that’s our industry’s problem that we haven’t given them an experience, that’s our fault,’’ Rowland says. “We have taught them over years and years that our services are so cheap, they ought to be free.”

Finding New Sources of Growth Takes Leadership


growth-5-25-16.pngThe Office of the Comptroller of the Currency has some very good advice in its publication, The Directors Book: “Sound financial performance means more than simply how much the bank earned last quarter. Equally important is the quality of earnings over the long term.”

This has always been challenging for bank leaders because of the inherent cyclicality of interest rates and the overall economy. Now, additional challenges have emerged from the relatively new phenomenon of fintech startups that provide competitive alternatives for every bank product and service. The average time spent at the top of any industry, whether a bank, or a company in the Fortune 500, is getting shorter and shorter. Yesterday’s top performers are soon long forgotten, and today’s leaders are already watching out for tomorrow’s darlings in their rearview mirror.

How is that some companies seem to defy the gravitational pull of these forces? How do some companies always find new ways to keep the growth engine going? How do they transition their company’s focus from low growth products to high growth products? One of the most important roles of boards and executive management is the effective allocation of resources—financial resources, human resources, managerial attention—and the best leaders allocate resources not to optimize for current returns, but for the long run.

Kodak was not suddenly surprised by the invention of digital photography; they were one of its key pioneers. So why did they end up being a poster child for an industry leader disrupted by new upstarts? In the final analysis, they didn’t adequately shift enough of the company’s resources away from the dying celluloid film business to the nascent digital photography business. When they did, it was too little, too late.

Direct examples like this are harder to find in banking—and the lessons harder to learn—because banks never really die, they just get absorbed by stronger performers. “Lack of innovation” is never listed as a cause of death in banking, but there is an unmistakable commonality among the industry leaders today—they are all investing resources in new products and services, and many of them are technology-driven.

A huge part of Steve Jobs’ lasting legacy is how he focused Apple’s resources away from the less profitable sectors of PCs and peripherals to create new products at the right times to capture market share in the growing categories of digital music, smartphones and tablets. It remains to be seen if Tim Cook can do it again in smartwatches, in-home entertainment, or even the Apple Car, but innovation is a valued and expected act of leadership in the company’s culture.

Bank customers today are increasingly comfortable with the value those technologies provide, and they expect their bank to keep up with their growing expectations. That takes a leadership team that invests in new ideas, but it goes beyond technology.

Whether those new ideas are created from the front lines, in an internal innovation lab, or through partnerships with external entrepreneurs, they only become valuable when they are implemented. That takes a leader willing to dedicate the right resources—and that usually means directing them from something else—in order create new sources of value for the company.

Beyond M&A: Staying Relevant Through Innovation & Transformation


Banks of all sizes are facing a fiercely competitive environment, reduced interest margins and regulation. While many in the industry are leveraging acquisitions to address these pressures, some are thinking outside the box. In his presentation at Bank Director’s 2016 Acquire or Be Acquired Conference, Andrew Wooten of PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP reveals how leading banks are adapting their business models, and the role technology plays in that transformation.

Highlights from this video:

  • Forces Shaping Banking
  • Fintech Landscape
  • Becoming Digital: Build, Buy Or Partner?

How to Safely Generate Bank Income Through SBA Loans


sba-loans-8-19-15.pngSmall Business Administration (SBA) lending is one of the key lending activities that can quickly and dramatically improve the bottom line of a community bank. It is not that difficult for a bank to generate $20 million in SBA loans, which will earn the institution between $1.0 to $1.2 million in pretax net income, if the loan guarantees are sold. Some bankers get concerned because they have heard stories of the SBA denying loan guarantees and that the SBA loan process is too time consuming and complex.

Sourcing SBA Loans
The basic strategies that most successful SBA lenders use to source SBA loans are as follows:

  1. Hire an experienced SBA Business Development Officer (BDO), who can find loans that fit your credit parameters and geography.
  2. Source loans from brokers or businesses that specialize in finding SBA loans.
  3. Utilize a call center to target SBA borrowers.
  4. Train your existing staff to identify and market to SBA loan prospects.

I have put these in the order of which approach is likely to be the most successful. However, ultimately it is the speed of execution that enables one lender to beat out another in the SBA business. So if you want to hire that high producing SBA BDO, the bank needs to have a clear idea of the types of credits that they will approve and a process that can quickly get them approved.

This can create a catch 22 for the lender, since in order to justify hiring SBA underwriters and processing personnel, you have to make sure that you generate loans. But in order to recruit those top performing SBA BDOs, you will need to show them that you have a way of getting their loans closed quickly.

The most effective solution for solving these problems is to hire a quality SBA Lender Service Provider (LSP).  This is the quickest way to add an experienced SBA back shop that will warranty its work and handle the loan eligibility determination, underwriting, processing, closing, loan sale and servicing. This gives the bank a variable cost solution, and allows them to have personnel to process 100s of loans per year. While some of the better LSPs will help the lender with the underwriting of the loan, it is solely the bank that makes the credit approval decision. SBA outsourcing is very cost effective and allows a bank to begin participating and making money with these programs immediately, even if they only do a few loans.

Making a Profit
Let us look at the bank’s profits from a $1.0 million SBA 7(a) loan that is priced at prime plus 2.0 percent with a 25-year term.

Loan amount $1,000,000  
Guaranteed portion $ 750,000  
Unguaranteed portion $ 250,000  
Gain on the sale of the SBA guaranteed portion $ 90,000 (12% net 14% gross)
Net interest income(5.25%-0.75% COF = 4.5%) $ 11,250 (NII on $250,000)
Servicing Income ($750,000 X 1.0%) $ 7,500  
Total gross income $ 108,750  
     
Loan acquisition cost (assumed to be 2.5%) $25,000 (BDO comp, etc.)
Outsource cost (approximately 2.0%) $ 20,000 (per SBA guidelines)
Annual servicing cost (assumed to be 0.50%) $ 5,000  
Loan loss provision (2.0% of $250,000) $ 5,000  
Total expenses $ 55,000  
Net pretax income $ 53,750  
ROE ($53,750/$25,000 risk based capital) 215%  
ROA ($53,750/$250,000) 21.5%  

In this example the bank made a $1.0 million SBA loan and sold the $750,000 guaranteed piece and made a $90,000 gain on sale. The bank earned $11,250 of net interest income on the $250,000 unguaranteed piece of that loan that the bank retained. When an SBA guaranty is sold, the investor buys it at a 1.0 percent discount, so the lender earns a 1.0 percent  ongoing fee on the guaranteed piece of the loan for the life of the loan. This example  did not account for the amortization of the loan through the year.

I believe that the expenses are self explanatory, but you can see if the bank made $20 million of SBA loans using these assumptions, they would earn $1.075 million in the first year.

Conclusion
As you can see, SBA lending can add a substantial additional income stream to your bank; however, you need a certain amount of loan production and a high quality staff, or you need an SBA outsource solution to underwrite and process the loans. As you can see, the ROE and ROA for SBA loans is much higher than conventional financing, which is why you see community banks that have an SBA focus generate higher returns.